NEWS

Jim Ryan to lead campaign for sales tax increase

Dan Petrella

Few people know DuPage County's criminal justice system better than does Jim Ryan.

The former DuPage County state's attorney, Illinois attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate has been tapped to help garner support for a ballot measure that would increase the county's sales tax by one-quarter cent to fund public-safety operations.

The County Board approved a $375.9 million budget in November, which will reduce county spending by about $52 million and lay off 190 employees, most of them in law enforcement and judicial departments. Board members and finance officials have said the cuts are necessary because county expenses continue to rise while revenues remain stagnant.

But the board also decided to hold off cuts until after the primary on Tuesday, Feb. 5, when voters will be asked to approve the sales tax increase. If it is approved, it could generate about $40 million in new revenue annually, which would be enough to make the cuts unnecessary, officials said.

Ryan, an Elmhurst resident who was the county's top prosecutor from 1984 to 1995, said he was approached by State's Attorney Joe Birkett and other county officials to help advocate for the sales-tax increase.

"If these cuts occur, it's going to undermine public safety in DuPage County, which is a concern of mine as a citizen, a former state's attorney in that office and (former) attorney general," he said.

Convincing DuPage voters to approve a tax increase is always a difficult task, Ryan said, and the short amount of time before the primary makes it even more difficult.

"I'm not crazy about tax increases either, but there are sometimes when it's needed, and I think this is one of those cases," he said. "When public safety is marginalized, it erodes the quality of life in our county, and we shouldn't let that happen."

All of the county's top elected officials have expressed their support for the increase, including Birkett, County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom and Sheriff John Zaruba.

Schillerstrom said when it came time to organize the campaign, Ryan was the logical choice to lead the push.

"Jim Ryan has been the face of law enforcement in this county for a couple decades," he said. "Everybody has a lot of respect for Jim, and nobody knows the public safety system better than Jim."

The campaign will use postcard mailings, cable TV and public appearances to plead its case for the increase.

"What we really want to do is educate people about why it's important for them to vote for this and to some extent what will happen if it doesn't pass,” Schillerstrom said.

Wheaton Leader